Hamas releases Gaza comedian after public outrage

Adel al-Mashwakhi left Gaza after his arrest and release in 2017 over a satirical video, but Hamas lured him back to Gaza years later, only to arrest and release him again.

al-monitor Adel al-Mashwakhi, a comedian from the Gaza Strip, seen in a still from a video uploaded Jan. 2, 2019.  Photo by YouTube/adel almashwakhi.

Jan 22, 2020

It was a video that landed Adel al-Mashwakhi in jail and another video that got him out. 

The comedian and former policeman from the Gaza Strip is known for his videos critical of a wide range of political issues. Mashwakhi first gained media notoriety in 2017, when he posted a video mocking the electricity cuts. The clip, titled "Hamas, that's enough," was viewed a quarter-million times. Hamas arrested all-Mashwakhi but released him two weeks later, on the condition that he make no more “politically flavored” videos. Shortly after his release, the comedian left the Gaza Strip. He returned in October 2018, with promises from Hamas that he could get his policeman job back and retire early. ​

Instead, in December 2019, a Gaza Military Court sentenced Mashwakhi to 18 months in prison for insulting religion, opposing public policy and "defective behavior."

After the ruling, Mashwakhi fought back with a new video. He posted a five-minute video on his Facebook page Jan. 11 to tell his story, describing how Hamas had deceived him, luring him back to the country with the promise of returning his job and freedom from prosecution. “Then they sentenced me to 18 months,” he said, promising to go on a hunger strike until death.

His video rekindled a wave of support for the acid-tongued comedian, both online and in the street. In the face of this public pressure, the Hamas government released him Jan. 14, after several key Hamas figures intervened. Human rights groups also acted on his behalf, according to his uncle, Tawfiq al-Mashwakhi, who said his nephew's release was once again on the condition that he stop making political videos. Should he be charged again, he would be imprisoned the full 18 months.

In his Facebook video, Mashwakhi said Hamas had wronged him and deprived him of his job as a police officer because he spoke “on behalf of the hard-working citizens oppressed in the Gaza Strip who endure harsh living conditions.”

He said the Hamas government had dredged up the charges from his January 2017 video, though he had been released on bail at the time due to health reasons. After his release in 2017, Mashwakhi traveled to Egypt and Jordan for treatment, then moved to Malaysia. Just when his life was getting back on track, he heard from the Hamas government.

“He returned to settle in the Gaza Strip in October 2018,” Tawfiq al-Mashwakhi told Al-Monitor. “We tried to warn him, but he insisted on returning to his beloved hometown [of Rafah] in the Gaza Strip.”

Tawfiq ​al-Mashwakhi said the Hamas government wanted his nephew to return to the Gaza Strip so they could use him to support their policies. “When he refused to do so, they reopened his previous judicial cases and got him behind bars once more," he said. "Anyone who knows Adel knows very well that it is difficult to tame him or turn him into a mouthpiece.”

Sarhan Abu al-Saeed, Mashwakhi’s manager of five months, agreed.

Mashwakhi performs gigs at weddings and other celebrations. He is also shooting a film, “The Refugee,” with funding from local institutions, Saeed said.

“The sentence against Mashwakhi came as a surprise to him and those around him. During the four hearings that were held, the judge showed him sympathy,” Saeed said. “He suffered great injustice, especially after the assurances he obtained that all of his previous cases would be closed.”

Mashkhawi said that within a year of his return he asked the Ministry of the Interior about his salary, which had not been disbursed to him, and the promises of early retirement. Instead, he was notified that he would again be put on trial.

​“Hamas came under heavy criticism on social media when the verdict was issued against him, but these criticism doubled after the video went viral,” Saeed said.

Mashwakhi's latest video gained more than 4,000 likes, 450 shares and 2,000 comments, most of them supportive of Mashwakhi and expressing anger toward Hamas. Others were critical of Mashwakhi and called him shallow.

Saeed said that many in the Gaza Strip do not accept Mashwakhi's brand of satire. “I am sure if he lived outside Gaza, he would have had greater success chances,” he said.

Tawfiq al-Mashwakhi said, “He was helping his followers cope with the harsh reality through humor and art. I really don’t see how he is tried and imprisoned for merely trying to make people happy."

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